GLENVILLE, N.Y. — Price Chopper Supermarkets, Schenectady, N.Y., went live with a new power-generating 400-kilowatt fuel cell system at an existing store here last week.
“Frank just fired up the fuel cell,” said Benny Smith, vice president of facilities, Price Chopper, during a webinar on April 4 on fuel cells for supermarkets, referring to Frank Blake, electrical specialist for Price Chopper.
Price Chopper's initial 400-kilowatt fuel cell installation took place in a new store in Colonie, N.Y., which opened in June 2009. The chain, which operates 128 stores, is working on a third installation in Middletown, Conn. The fuel cells are supplied by UTC Power, South Windsor, Conn.
Price Chopper, Whole Foods Market and Wal-Mart Stores are among the small but growing number of retailers exploring this technology as a means to power their stores. Fuel cells use electrochemical power rather than fossil fuel combustion, making them a relatively green source of power.
At the Colonie store, the fuel cell generates 60% to 70% of the electricity required during the summer, and all that is needed during the winter. The system also provides heat for a variety of store applications, including hot water, refrigeration, air handling, snow melting and floor heating. Its initial uptime was 92% but it is now about 98%.
“Supermarkets are a great facility to apply fuel cell technology because we are operating 24/7 year-round,” said Smith. “It's not like an office building where you go home at 5 o'clock and the lights go off.” In the event of a loss of grid power, fuel cells can be used to sustain the entire store, he noted, compared to back-up generators that generally keep just the lights and front-end going. “I wish we had them in all of our stores during the 2003 blackout,” he said.
Fuel cells are still relatively expensive. Price Chopper received grants from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to help finance the Colonie and Glenville fuel cell projects. Even with that assistance, Smith put the cost of a fuel cell at between $1 million and $1.5 million. “Without the grants, the projects would not be approved,” he said. While he is still analyzing the payback period, he estimated it to be five years or less.
Whole Foods Market, Austin, Texas, installed fuel cells from UTC Power in a store in Glastonbury, Conn., in 2008, and one in Dedham, Mass., in 2009. The Glastonbury store's energy consumption is 30% less than that of a conventional store.
A few months ago, a fuel cell went live at a Whole Foods store in San Jose, Calif., and another is planned for a store in Fairfield, Conn., said Kathy Loftus, global leader for sustainable engineering, maintenance and energy management for Whole Foods, who also spoke during the webinar. Whole Foods also hopes to retrofit one or two sites with a 100-kilowatt, solid-oxide fuel cell from Bloom Energy, Sunnyvale, Calif., in the near future, she said.